An Animal Ordinance Story

Since I grew up on a “rural” hobby farm less than a quarter of a mile outside of city limits (seriously, you could see the city line from my parents’ house if it wasn’t invisible!), I was completely clueless about animal ordinances until I was 25 years old and reporting in a REAL rural county in another part of the state. I only found out about them because of a ridiculous story I was covering in which a man was trying to keep six unruly Great Danes usually off-leash in what I believe was a tiny unfenced yard of a tiny house “downtown”.


I put quotes around “downtown” because it was a “town” of 2,000. Until I reported in this county, I didn’t even realize towns this small had town ordinances or town governments at all. Two thousand kids went to my high school. While I suppose our principal acted as a “mayor”, it’s hard to believe a town of this size needs such a thing. It seems like county government should take care of things, but what do I know?

Anyway, while I was reporting on this case, I shocked to learn that most towns/cities have ordinances restricting people to just three pets. Having grown up with an average of probably 25 pets at a time, such a low number seemed unimaginable to me. Three pets?! That’s like nothing. OK, I thought, three dogs is a reasonable expectation of people. Much more than that gets pretty chaotic, especially if the dogs are big, but surely you can have three dogs and a cat or even three dogs and three cats. I knew so many people growing up who had two dogs and two cats. Surely it didn’t apply to those scenarios…

Turns out it does.

In this particular town (and probably many others), by a three-pet limit, they really do mean you can only have three pets. It seems to me that the limit should be more like five pets or that each pet situation should be taken on an individual basis. As long as people’s pets are well-cared-for and aren’t bothering other people, I think people should be allowed to have as many pets as they want. I’m particularly baffled by the banning of pot-bellied pigs because they are “livestock”. I understand the ordinance keeping cows and horses out of 1/8 acre yards downtown, but a pot-bellied pig is 1/6 the size of a farmyard pig and lives in your house. What is the problem here? How could that be bothering anyone?

This particular family was three GIANT pets over the city limits.

While I was immediately completely against the ordinance, even I had to admit six Great Danes was a LOT of dog for a small house surrounded by other houses. We had a Great Dane when I was a kid. He weighed more than 180 pounds and when he stood up on his hind legs he was about 6 feet tall. When I was a little kid, he used to knock me over with a wag of his tail. Even though he was a very good dog, his size made him difficult to live with. We had 2 acres and a house with ample square footage. These people had six times the Great Dane we did in 1/3 of the house and probably 1/16 the land. I have no idea how they managed it, and based on the complaints against them they weren’t managing well.


But someone with six cats or four chihuahuas would also be in violation of this ordinance. I don’t see how having six cats in your house could bother anyone as long as you were feeding them and changing their litterboxes regularly. The animal ordinance is so ridiculous. I think most of the people who end up getting in trouble aren’t causing any harm, but have neighbors who don’t like them, which is probably what happened to the people with Great Danes even if the dogs themselves were probably causing a nuisance (I really don’t see how they couldn’t be and I’m pretty lenient when it comes to pets).

The thing is, if there was a problem with the dogs’ behavior or care, there could be (and probably is) an ordinance to take care of that. This meaningless number of animals ordinance doesn’t work. Four smallish pets such as two average-sized dogs and two cats shouldn’t be a problem in most households, but in most towns they would violate the ordinance. Two wildly barking dogs who frequently jump their fence, chase people and have owners who don’t care for them well? That’s a different story. An apartment with 500 pet rats in it? Also another story.


Surely there’s a better way to monitor that.

In the end, the Great Dane collector left town and kept all his pets. I’m glad, partially because I hate to see people separated from their pets when pets are like children and partially because the guy with the six Great Danes really was a jerk. And that’s probably what got his pet ordinance violation noticed even more than his allegedly unruly pets did– which is just more evidence that pet limit ordinances don’t work. Unless you truly have an animal hoarding situation, only the disliked neighbor is going to get reported for a violation so many people commit.



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3 Responses to An Animal Ordinance Story

  1. Please tell me the three pet rule doesn’t apply to fish, that would be so ridiculous. “Sorry, son, we can’t get a dog, because we already have 3 guppies.”

    • I can’t imagine how fish could apply to this rule. I’m pretty sure it means cats and dogs, but there’s a chance that rabbits and ferret-type things are involved. I think hamsters/gerbils aren’t, but who knows. I’m too lazy to look it up at the moment! It definitely depends on the town, but that was the rule in the town I was covering and the town of 10,000 I was living in at that time. I just can’t imagine not being legally allowed to have two cats and two dogs. How how how is that too much or in anyway bothersome to the community? Stupid stupid ordinance.

  2. Anne

    Your mom is my hero! When I grow up I want to be just like her!

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